The Inside Agenda Blog

The Story Behind Kathleen Wynne's Apology

by Steve Paikin Wednesday May 15, 2013


Our interview Tuesday, where Premier Kathleen Wynne apologized for the way two gas plants were cancelled. 

John Tory should be happy.

For weeks, he has been using the platform that is his excellent daily radio program on NewsTalk 1010 to urge Premier Kathleen Wynne to apologize for the gas plant debacle. And for weeks, Wynne has steadfastly declined to do that.

The premier has often expressed "regret" for a terrible process, that saw gas plants sited in Oakville and Mississauga, then cancelled for political reasons at a cost of nearly $600 million (so far).

But Tory, among others, has been urging the premier to go further -- to come out with a clear and sincere apology, and a further promise that this fiasco will never happen again. 

John Tory reviews his notes at a recent CivicAction conference.

Wynne and Tory have an unusual relationship in politics. In 2007, she defeated the former PC Party leader in Don Valley West, helping strike what would eventually turn out to be a fatal blow for Tory's political prospects. And yet today, the two of them have an extremely cordial, respectful relationship. Tory, in his capacity as chairman of CivicAction, has been an asset to Wynne in her efforts to move public opinion towards accepting new "revenue tools" to get transit built. She is a frequent guest on his radio show and is the first politician to go way out on a limb in championing further fees to promote the transit infrastructure he also believes in.

I'm only speculating here, but it wouldn't surprise me if the people in Wynne's office finally came to the conclusion that, as Mr. Sinatra used to sing, "Regrets, I've had a few," just wasn't cutting it, and that a genuine mea culpa was needed to get this gas plant issue out of the headlines, so the premier can get people focused on other issues she's passionate about, such as passing the budget and getting transit built.

For our part at TVO, we had the premier on our program a couple of weeks ago. But it was to participate in a discussion about gender politics, and whether women govern differently than men. I clarified on that occasion that asking about gas plants during that program just didn't seem to fit, so the premier committed to returning soon to discuss more current matters. Tuesday's visit fulfilled that commitment, and yes, I was surprised that the visit turned out to be so newsworthy. 

Did I know Premier Wynne was going to offer an apology during the interview? Actually, no. And in case we missed it the first time, Wynne went on to repeat her mea culpa 11 times during our conversation. (You can watch that interview in the video player above.)

What I actually found more interesting was what Wynne declined to say. Four times I asked her, shouldn't the apology really have come from her predecessor? After all, it was Dalton McGuinty who made the politically craven decision in the dying days of the 2011 election campaign to kill the Mississauga plant to save Liberal seats, having no clue as to the potential costs involved.

Wynne offers an apology to the people of Ontario. 

The easiest thing for Wynne to say at that moment was, yes, McGuinty should have apologized during his appearance at the legislative committee hearings two weeks ago.

But she didn't.

And the reason she didn't is the reason why so many Ontarians like Kathleen Wynne, despite not liking many of the policies of the Liberal government over the past 10 years. Wynne didn't try to disassociate herself from McGuinty. She didn't blame him and him alone for the albatross that is now around her neck. She took responsibility for it and now hopes to move on. Why McGuinty didn't offer an apology, if only to help out his new premier, baffles me, and I hope I have a chance to ask him why some day.

PC Leader Tim Hudak faces the legislative committee investigating the gas plant cancellations.

No one knows whether this apology will finally put the gas plant issue to bed for the Liberals. That's out of their hands. The Progressive Conservatives certainly give no indication they're letting go of this issue. Their leader, Tim Hudak, testified before the legislative committee yesterday, and in calling for a judicial inquiry into the situation, did his best to give the story more legs.

Hudak says only "the threat of the sound of a jail door closing behind them" will get officials to be more honest about how this gas plant debacle happened.

Finally, this whole story is a good lesson in the realities of governing. Kathleen Wynne is meeting with NDP leader Andrea Horwath today to see whether they can come to an agreement on the budget. There are at least a dozen other major issues Wynne needs to make progress on, including social assistance reform, building transit infrastructure, creating the revenue tools needed to build that infrastructure, holding the line on program spending to 1 per cent or less, cutting auto insurance premiums by 15 per cent, implementing improvements to our home care system, figuring out how to improve the Liberals' renewable energy policy, signing a collective agreement with the public service employees union to keep the LCBO open as the holiday weekend approaches, improving relations with rural Ontario, and on and on and on.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has added three more items to her wish list in advance of her meeting with Kathleen Wynne on Wednesday.

And yet, a disproportionate amount of her time is being spent on the issue she hates the most and ironically wasn't even of her making.

As they say in baseball, welcome to "The Bigs."